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County attorney, Matsons set out to change state law

The sentencing of convicted cop-shooter Tyler Janovsky was a surreal experience for those witnessing it unfold inside the small Waseca County courtroom.

Victim after victim, the prosecutor’s closing argument, and even the judge herself all had a similar opinion on Janovsky’s sentencing on Friday: It’s just not enough.

Janovsky was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the shooting of Waseca police officer Arik Matson on Jan. 6. Twenty of those years was for shooting and critically wounding Matson in the head, an action Janovsky confessed to doing with the intent to kill Matson during his plea agreement. The other 15 years are for shooting at Waseca officer Andrew Harren and Sgt. Timothy Schroeder, neither of whom were physically injured during the incident.

State law requires Janovsky to serve at least two-thirds of his sentence with the remainder potentially being served on supervised release.

Waseca County Attorney Rachel Cornelius recounted telling Matson’s wife Megan that the law needed to be changed during their conversation before the sentencing.

“She said, ‘Let’s do it,’” Cornelius said.

Following the sentencing on Friday, Cornelius along with the Matsons had a brief press conference where they announced their plan to push for legislation changing the maximum sentencing for attempted murder of a peace officer.

“We just feel that the 20-years is inadequate for officers who have been severely injured in the line of duty,” Cornelius said. “Being shot at, but not physically harmed does seem adequate, but it’s not adequate for officers whose whole lives are affected forever.”

Cornelius said the push to change the law is still a new and ongoing process, including that she has yet to determine what she feels would be an adequate maximum sentence for defendants who critically injure a peace office. At this time, she is working closely with the Minnesota Police and Peace Officer Association to set up meetings with legislators – including local state elected officials Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca) and Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) – to start the conversation, keep the momentum going and let people hear about why it is so important to re-evaluate this law.

Standing alongside her during this battle is Megan Matson.

“The night Arik was shot, [Rachel] knew what the outcome was going to be and it broke her heart,” Matson said. “I always said there is a purpose for why God chose Arik that night, and that purpose is we have to do a movement. We are a movement.”

While the bill that would change the law is currently unnamed – another element of what Cornelius said is part of the ongoing process – there is only one name the women feel makes sense: the Matson Strong bill.

Matson said that while there will never be “enough time” to charge a defendant for taking away the time she lost with her husband from the time he was shot until he returned home in October, she feels the time is now to make the change and ensure that more justice is served in any possible future cases similar to theirs.

“There is probably going to have to be different criteria, like the defendant should be charged if you’re attempting to hurt an officer for up to so many years, and if they’re able to go back to work that’s great, but in Arik’s situation as of right now he probably cannot go back to work, and that charge should be different,” Matson said. “I feel like being able to have justice for the thin blue line brothers and sisters and to be able to do something so in the future we can get them justice, that’s our purpose now.”

Another part of the law Cornelius is hoping to see amended is the maximum sentencing for the additional officers in such cases. Cornelius said she was surprised to learn that by tagging on another officer – or in this case combining the second and third officers involved into one charge for the plea agreement – the maximum was only 15 years.

“This law is saying those other officers’ lives are less important than the first and that does not seem right,” Cornelius said. “I keep saying they weren’t physically harmed, but Sgt. Schroeder was clearly emotionally harmed. The PTSD officers experience in general is why the 20-years precedent is important – it’s appropriate because it’s a very traumatic and life-changing event.”

During the sentencing hearing on Friday, Schroeder was one of several to give a victim impact statement to the court. In his statement, he candidly spoke on how the night of Jan. 6 continues to haunt him and impact his everyday life, including making him wonder if he will “ever be good enough” for his badge.

Waseca Police Chief Penny Vought said that while she believe her department is doing as well as can be expected, there are certainly some officers doing better than others.

“We have endured something that no department ever wants to face, and that is the potential loss of an officer who is also our friend and coworker,” Vought said. “I say it all the time – Arik is a miracle and we are so grateful that Arik is alive and can be with his family and with us.”

Cornelius believes this is the first time the Waseca County Attorney’s Office has attempted to change a state law. She said while she knows it is no small feat, she feels it is an important issue that Waseca is meant to take on.

“I’m excited and ready,” she said. “I’m excited to see if we can do it and I’m confident that we have the right backing and momentum to make it happen.”

Matson echoed Cornelius that she is ready to take on this journey, despite the fact that the sentencing of her husband’s shooter will not change regardless of their success.

“No words can describe the hurt that it feels that Arik has to spend the rest of his life as a different person, but Janovsky is going to keep living his life as a repeat criminal, the only life he’s ever known,” Matson said. “Arik didn’t ask for this, I didn’t ask for this, but it’s all in God’s hand now to direct us to the right people and make a change. The time is now.”


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Owatonna American Legion serves those who served us

Holding true to a longstanding tradition, the American Legion Post 77 in Owatonna hosted its annual free Veterans Day lunch on Wednesday.

“As long as we can safely continue the tradition, we’re going to,” said Brandon Noble, the gambling manager at the Legion. “We want our local veterans to know that we appreciate them and everything they’ve done and continue to do.”

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Noble said they were still able to serve 50 people during the lunch — roughly half of what they serve during a normal year. As they have done in previous years, the people were served at the table versus a buffet-style set up, a precaution Noble said was extra important in 2020.

“We never really have done a buffet-style thing, we’ve always served to the individuals,” Noble said. “We look at it as — it’s our turn to serve you as thanks for your service.”


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Federated Insurance appoints new CEO, COO
  • Updated

In a significant step forward in planned efforts to develop and install the next generation of strong executive leadership at Federated Insurance, Chairman and CEO Jeff Fetters has announced that Michael G. Kerr has been appointed the organization’s president and chief executive officer, and Nicholas R. Lower its executive vice president, chief operating officer.

These leadership changes will be effective Jan. 1, at which time Fetters will voluntarily relinquish his role as CEO while retaining his duties and responsibilities as Chairman of the Federated Mutual Insurance Companies.

Fetters’ duties will include active management of the business of the company and working with the CEO and Board to develop long-term strategy and vision for the company. He will also continue overseeing Federated’s Investment and Legal Departments, and remain a steadfast proponent of Federated’s four cornerstones and core principles and values.

Additionally, Fetters and his wife Marty will continue their active support of the Owatonna community and remain co-chairs of the Federated Challenge for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

“As president and CEO, Mike Kerr will continue to champion Federated’s culture and core principles and values,” Fetters said. “He is uniquely qualified to guide our organization forward, having achieved great success in every leadership role he’s been assigned throughout the company during his 39-year career. Mike is blessed with a natural ability to move hearts and inspire those around him to reach their highest potential. He cares deeply for the well-being of Federated clients, employees, and his community.”

Kerr hails from northern Michigan and is a Central Michigan University graduate. Following successful tenures as a Marketing Representative, District Marketing Manager, and Regional Marketing Manager in Michigan and Indiana, Kerr and his wife Joanne relocated their family to Owatonna, Minnesota, where he has served in various leadership roles in Federated’s Home Office. He has been Director of Marketing, Director of Association Risk Management Services, and overseen Home Office Marketing, Property & Casualty Claims and Underwriting, Field Services, Life Operations, Learning Center, Advertising, Human Resources, Property & Casualty Services, and Office and Physical Services. He has also chaired Federated’s Operations Team, Commercial Health Team, and Commercial Lines Team. As President and CEO, Kerr will oversee Federated’s Property and Casualty and Life Insurance Operations, as well as its Actuarial, Information Services and Human Resources Departments.

“Nick Lower will bring tremendous passion for Federated and client success to his role as COO,” Fetters said. “He is a driven individual who sets a high bar for himself and all those around him. He tackles challenges head on, with a directness and sense of urgency that has earned the respect of his colleagues here at Federated. He is a tremendous coach and mentor, who models integrity, dedication, and a tireless work ethic.”

Following graduation from Muskingum University, Lower joined Federated Insurance in 1999 as a Marketing Representative in Ohio. Over the years, he has taken on several leadership roles in the company’s Marketing function, culminating in being named Director of Marketing in 2017. He has also overseen Federated’s Association Risk Management Services Department, as well as its Marketing Administration and Incentives areas. In recent years, Lower has served as Chair of Federated’s Operations Team, which helps oversee the company’s overall financial results.

“It is with tremendous pride and complete confidence that we announce these important leadership changes,” Fetters said. “Mike Kerr and Nick Lower are proven leaders who breathe life into our organization’s mission each and every day. We have been tremendously fortunate to benefit from their contributions over the years and look forward to the future they will help shape for our company and clients.”


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Blooming Prairie City Council allocates remaining CARES funds
  • Updated

Local governments are wrapping up the final details as the deadline to spend the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funds is approaching fast.

The Blooming Prairie City Council approved on Monday spending of its remaining federal funds. The council approved the city’s CARES business grant program, discussed purchasing equipment for the Blooming Prairie Fire Department and payroll reimbursement.

Initially awarded $150,078, the city decided to split that money between small business grants, facility upgrades, city expenses caused by the pandemic such as personal protective equipment and city payroll. CARES act funding must be spent by Nov. 15 and projects must also be completed within that timeline. The city will not be returning any unused funds to Steele County, according to City Administrator Andrew Langholz.

A washer/extractor, dryer and lockers for Blooming Prairie firefighter turnout gear will be purchased with donation help from the townships of Somerset, Udolpho and Ripley. Ripley Township approved $600 toward the expected $18,790 expense, according to Langholz.

“They have wooden lockers now, since we’ll be cleaning here the equipment, we are using this as a COVID related expense of the CARES funding and then to dry their equipment isn’t conducive in the old wooden lockers,” Langholz said adding that they will instead be getting metal lockers.

On Thursday via an email, Langholz stated that the city received a donation of $13,000 from Somerset Township and $5,000 from Udolpho Township. He said this was a larger donation than he expected.

A resolution to accept the donations will be made during a special meeting on Thursday. The city will pay the remaining balance on the fire department equipment using its CARES funding.

“According to the CARES funding, you can transfer from government to government unit, just like if we wouldn’t have spent our money it would go back to Steele County,” Langholz said.

The council also approved all seven CARES business grant recipients. In order to receive the grant businesses had to provide documentation proving the negative impact as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blooming Prairie Economic Development Authority increased the amount each grantee received, according to Langholz. Originally the limit was set at a maximum of $5,000 and a total of $33,000 was requested. The total awarded amount came to $69,268, with funding also coming from the county.

Tier one businesses, who were required to close due to the state mandate and/or were required to operate at 50% capacity, could receive a maximum of $15,000. Tier two businesses, who weren’t required to close, but can prove they were negatively impacted, received $10,500.

After all other expenses, any remaining funds will be applied to payroll reimbursement. At Monday’s meeting Langholz estimated this amount to be around $10,000, however after donations came in the city will be putting more toward payroll. The finalized amount is around $20,852.

“Technically we could use every cent, all $150,000, towards payroll, but we saw much better uses than that,” Langholz said.